A Zoo Story

Last weekend, as I drove to the coffee shop to Mykle it up, I saw a make-shift sign on the street corner near the Rose Garden Library: BOOK SALE. Well, I like books a lot, and I like buying them even better, especially when you can score them in bulk for 25¢ an inch. That’s three Washingtons per foot, for the mathematically challenged. A flat out steal. So I pulled over and scampered in, fast.

For the idealists among us, who believe that men, women, and children are fundamentally different from hyenas and jackals, coyotes and wolfs, and chimps and bonobos, I challenge you to enter a book sale where items are free or very nearly free.

I dare you. 

If you emerge from that welter of snapping teeth without a profound change in your world view, your head will forever remain in the sand. It’s a fearsome sight, I tell you. Men and women grunting for position, panting and sweating over boxes, disemboweling neatly stacked contents of brown paper bags on the floor, rooting through them on all fours, grabbing this and that, this and that, and then making large, haphazard piles of books and leering at potential competitors, as though to advertise to the world: Mine, mine, mine. 

Joining the fray, I clawed my way along a table and promptly snatched up Close Range by Annie Proulx, Out Stealing Horses by Per Peterson, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz, Netherland by Joseph O’Neil, and The Lord of the Rings triology by J.R.R. Tolkien. My acquisitive eye landed on Tolkien because of the unusual looking covers, a 1971 Canadian edition, which I’d never seen before. 

The rest of the books were strewn about the tables and floor like carrion. I gingerly stepped over them into the cashier’s line, behind a woman with brown hair. She had at least 10 feet worth of books, all choice titles, too. A twinge of envy. When the line moved, she inched her tower of books forward. They swayed and threatened to topple. The cashier, an old woman with a green, brim bucket hat, looked on all of us with detached amusement.

“Hi dear,” she said to Brown Hair. “How did you learn about our
sale today?”

Booksalefinderdotcom,” she said. 

I’d never heard of this site before and had to get in on the action. I poked my nose into the conversation. “Does it list all the sales in the area?” I asked Brown Hair. 

“Yes, everywhere,” she said.

“How often do you use it?” 

“Every day.”

“Are you a book dealer?”


Well, at least that makes sense of her leaning pillar of books, now doesn’t it. A twinge of indignation. Pause. “Booooooo,” I said to Brown Hair, right to her face, slowly drawing out the sound of it.

Yep, I actually booed a book dealer in public at a book sale! Not a boo with a hiss, mind, but a boo with a friendly, half-joking air about it. Half-joking, but half-serious, too. I mean, shouldn’t the reading public get first crack at donated books?

Brown Hair wasn’t amused, but Green Hat was—she hooted softly like an owl, as though to herself, or maybe the dealer, or maybe me, or maybe the whole situation. Who knows? But one thing is clear, I’m not sure my booing, as great as that bit of moral condemnation felt, was justified or merely the disguised snarl of a beast.

8 Responses to A Zoo Story

  1. Matt Rowan says:

    Booksalefinder.com = bookmarked. That’s just awesome. Plus, nice job with the booing.

  2. LOL, love this story – and good for you re the boo! Sounds like you struck the right tone for the circumstance but not one that would change the booed-at behaviour. It’s a capitalist world eh!

  3. Colleen says:

    As a simple book buyer, I loved such violent struggles for the next great find. As a book-seller, I’ve come to loathe them so much that I now don’t bother with them at all. It’s tragic really – should we be suffering for our $1/lb art as much as the authors did?

  4. Kerry says:

    Great story and great link. I have found some book sale opportunities already. Now, if you can just provide a link to free shelf space…

  5. Kevin Neilson says:


    Matt – word.

    Whisper – glad you like the story!

    Colleen – I was wondering how this vignette would strike you. I’m glad we’re still friends.

    Kerry – ay, the link is fantastic. I chased down another sale yesterday, and for a measly $5 a bag, I was allowed to stuff it with great books I wouldn’t ordinarily buy, like The Decameron, for instance.

    • Colleen says:

      Of course we’re still friends. The only thing that could change that would be you deciding you wanted to carry Cormac McCarthy’s baby; we’d have to have a serious talk then.

  6. Your blog is such a delight. This made me cackle with the recognition–shameful, lecherously biblophilic, acquisitive creature that I am.

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